The Worst Cities In The U.S. For Mobile Phone Reception Might Make You Want To Move

How many times have you been visiting a city away from home and had this conversation with a local?: “I have the worst reception here!” “Oh, what do you have?” “[Here’s where you say which mobile carrier you use] and it’s getting a crap signal.” “I have [one that works awesome in this particular town], so that sucks for you.” It’s one of those things where some lucky locals find out their calls won’t be dropped and their mobile networks will actually connect, but once you leave your hometown, all bets are off. So which cities have the worst cell phone reception?

Time teamed up with OpenSignalMaps to check out which U.S. cities have the spottiest service, so at least the next time you’re visiting your parents and standing out in the backyard waving your phone at the sky, you’ll understand that it’s not just you. Here are a few of the worst offenders.

10. Detroit, Michigan:  Worst Carrier — AT&T, Best Carrier — Sprint
All those tall buildings in Detroit could be interfering with reception, a situation that could be improved with extra cell phone towers. However, because Detroit’s population is declining, the companies putting up those towers might not think it’s a good investment.

7. Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Worst Carrier — T-Mobile, Best Carrier — Sprint
At 597,867 residents, Milwaukee is among the 75 cities with populations over 250,000, which is where Sprint has the best average signal strength in general for this study.

5. Toledo, Ohio:  Worst Carrier — T-Mobile, Best Carrier — Sprint
Toledo’s average signal strength is less than a decibel away from #6 Tucson’s. According to OpenSignal’s founder, phones can make calls okay but there are likely going to be more dropped calls, at a poorer quality of call and slower data speeds.

3. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma: Worst Carrier — AT&T, Best Carrier: Sprint
Oklahoma City is so sprawling at 600 square miles that cell phone carriers experience a multitude of connection problems here. Los Angeles is only 470 square miles, in comparison.

1. Bakersfield, California: Worst Carrier — AT&T, Best Carrier — Sprint
We hate to break it to you, Bakersfield residents, but you’ve got it rough. It could be due however to the population explosion — the number of citizens has shot up by 40% between 2000 and 2011. Ah, the pain of being super popular.

Cell Phone Woes: America’s 10 Worst Cities for Mobile Phone Reception [Time]


Edit Your Comment

  1. That guy. says:

    So…Sprint is pretty good, eh?

    • Emperor Norton I says:

      More likely that Sprint has so few customers that its network is never overloaded.

      • That guy. says:

        “All 10 of us have never had any dropped calls!”

      • ChuckECheese says:

        Sprint does have great coverage in many cities.
        However, in one of those cities (Phoenix), I finally gave up on them because their towers are overused, leading to constant dropped calls, especially at busy times of day.

  2. Robofish says:

    I’ve been considering switching to sprint, but I’d have to get the wife on board. I’m sick of all of their shenanigans about data plans.

    • Robofish says:

      To clarify I’m sick of Verizon’s data shenanigans

      • and_another_thing says:

        If that turns into sickness with Sprint’s data plans, check out the pre-paid arm, Virgin Mobile USA.

        • pamelad says:

          I am quite happy with Virgin Mobile, which runs on the Sprint network. If you are not a cell-phone yakker, the pre-paid plan might be right for you. I only pay $7.22 per month (including tax), and have had only one dropped call in seven years with the service. I have used it in Tucson, Phoenix, Dallas, Houston, Orlando, a boat outside of Cocoa Beach, FL, Chicago, New York, Vegas and other cities, as well as on a few rural highways.

          NO contract required, the phone works just fine and it’s inexpensive.

    • Mr_Magoo says:

      Can you get decent cell phone service on a boat, even with Sprint?

    • momoftwokids says:

      I’m with and_another_thing. I LOVE Virgin Mobile, all the use of the Sprint towers and a fraction of the cost!

  3. xspimpin says:

    Was this article written by….Sprint?

    • mianne prays her parents outlive the TSA says:

      If not, then it sounds like the editors/advertisers at Time got some very sweet contracts with Sprint. $20/mo* for an iPhone with unlimited talk, text and data?

      *Would have only been $10/mo, but you dared to say Verizon was the best in Lincoln Nebraska! –Time’s rebuttal: And what? be accused of being a sock puppet for you guys?

      • cybrczch says:

        To be honest, Sprint in Lincoln, NE really does bite the big one. Even worse if you are on Virgin Mobile, it uses Sprint’s network, but no roaming.

    • kc2idf says:

      Here is the pattern I observed: In all cases, the worst carrier was a GSM carrier, and the best was a CDMA carrier. Now, I would have expected a better showing from Verizon, but the general pattern still holds.

  4. LionMan says:

    Maybe this article should be renamed 10 best cities to go to the movies and not have to deal with annoying cell-phone talkers?

  5. lovemypets00 - You'll need to forgive me, my social filter has cracked. says:

    In Detroit’s case, I think cell phone service is way down on the list of reasons to move away. I stumbled upon this little tidbit today:

  6. ChillyDog says:

    Shame on consumerist for posting this blatant commercial for Sprint. Most people know that Sprint is the Best Carrier nowhere.

    I live in Toledo and cannot recall the last time I had to fish for a signal or had a call dropped, but of course I don’t use Sprint any more, so I’m not a valid test subject.

  7. Sir Winston Thriller says:

    Sprint? Sprint? I signed with them because an alumni association had a big discounted plan with them. The service was OK. Then they released the ICS update to our phones (Epic 4G Touch). Dropped calls, overheating batteries, charges lasting less than a day….the list goes on and on. Sprint’s response is that these are minor, isolated problems. Their message boards tell another story. It is getting to the point where I may just suck it up and pay the ETF to get out of this lousy service.

    • tsume says:

      WiMAX is junk, that’s why.

    • rdaex says:

      Do a hard reset… Call Samsung and thank them for their garbage updates, like always

    • quail20 says:

      I love smart phones but hate them when they’re locked and they come from a carrier loaded with bloatware. Yea. Sprint smart phones are like anyone elses. Research them before buying or you wind up with crap like that.

  8. NotEd says:

    Sprint is usually fine in cities. It’s once you hit the smaller suburbs or fuurther out that they tend to suffer.

    For example, when moving to a house about 60 miles west of Chicago my wife switches from T-Mo to Sprint to get a new Blackberry and USB data adapter because she planned on working from home. Neither would connect reliably at all.
    After 2 weeks she gave up even trying and canceled. They have been after us for the ETF ever since.
    In the meantime she got a more local job and switched to AT&T and had no problems at all.

  9. kcvaliant says:

    Well to be fair, sprint is located in overland park ks just outside of kc mo/ks. Sprint is downright the worst service. Crappy towers, 4g, everything. You would figure their home location service would be amazing? Nope.

    Of course if they ever fixed their faults they would be the best provider. But I hear they are not allowed to build more towers where their service stinks. Who knows.

    • luxosaucer13 says:

      I know a few reps who work at Sprint, and they say that Sprint blew such a sh*tload of cash to get the iPhone that they don’t have the liquidity to expand (or just don’t want to spend the money to) and their cell sites are slowly being overloaded by new iPhone users. They’d rather cover the huge gaps in their already poor coverage by exploiting roaming agreements reserved by the FCC for *small rural* carriers. IOW, they’d rather push the responsibility for coverage off on to Verizon and US Cellular, if you live outside a major city or a good distance away from a major highway.

  10. luxosaucer13 says:

    I left Sprint to go to US Cellular, and in my experience, I get much better coverage, even in areas that don’t have US Cellular, than I ever did with Sprint (or anyone else for that matter). If you don’t believe me, read the January 2012 issue of this site’s sister publication. In the US Cellular markets tested, they outperform EVERYONE else.

    Maybe the reason why US Cellular isn’t mentioned in this report is that it operates in 26 states, rather than all metro areas across the country.

    • Not Given says:

      My cousin is a farrier, so he works in rural areas all day. He said he has no coverage from Sprint in the rural areas but he can use it as his home phone. He tried US Cellular, they have the best coverage in the rural areas but he had no reception at his house in town.

      • luxosaucer13 says:

        My wife and I live on the West Coast, in a rural area. We’ve been to L.A., Sacramento, San Diego, Reno, Eugene, OR, and Portland, and have had no issues whatsoever in any of those cities. In fact, So Cal reception with a US Cellular phone was better than with a Sprint phone. However, as with anything, YMMV.

  11. newfenoix says:

    In Little Rock, AR, Sprint sucks. In my former home area of Hot Springs, AR, Sprint sucks. In the DFW metroplex, Sprint sucks. In Ft. Worth, Version and Sprint suck. I have been on AT&T since June of 07 and have had zero problems. Used Sprint from 2002 to 2007 and during that time the only area that I had good service in was the Oklahoma City area. I was a private investigator based in Hot Springs and traveled all through Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana. I changed companies after I moved to Texas and they used Version and the phones were useless in the Ft. Worth but worked well in the rest of the DFW area. My personal phone will remain AT&T and it is a Windows Phone.

    • Santas Little Helper says:

      With all due respect your opinion of Sprint is well outdated. 2007 = light years in technology. I am not sure if you are the best study sample at this point.

  12. Banished to the Corner says:

    Charlotte, NC – don’t try anything with 4G (or 3GLTE). A group of us were there for meetings, and no one, no matter which network, could get decent connections. I have the Samsung Galaxy II s and I would actually watch the battery drain. I had to place it in airplain mode except when I was making a call.

  13. Princess Beech loves a warm cup of treason every morning says:

    Never had major issues with Sprint in Minneapolis, or anywhere else I’ve flown to (Chicago, San Francisco). Only time I had weird issues was in North Carolina – I for some reason keep dialing some sort of party line even if I had the phone # correct.

  14. RayanneGraff says:

    Wow, I never knew OKC was bigger than LA. Crazy. I live in Norman & frequently visit the city, and I’m not surprised that AT&T came up as the worst. It sucks even down here, and everyone I know that has AT&T absolutely HATES it.

    My extended family lives in the Waukesha/Milwaukee area & when I was up there 2 years ago, I noticed that my reception & data speeds were particularly bad(I have T-Mo). My mom, who has Sprint, had great reception the whole time.

    • hikari07 says:

      Supposedly OKC used to be one of the largest cities in the world sizewise… or so my parents say. Either way, I had cingular starting in 2002 and kept with them when they went to AT&T to this day. I’ve never really had problems, though speed was not always a big deal to me since I was on wifi a lot.

  15. bigfry says:

    As a resident of Bakersfield, I have to wonder how amazing it is in other locales.

    I have personal experience with AT&T(1990s-2009, 2012-Present), Nextel(2002-2012), Sprint(2012) and T-Mobile(2009-Present) over the last fifteen years or so, and my siblings are currently local Verizon customer. In the city and near environs we have not experienced what I consider to be horrible reception. I honestly can’t think of more than a half dozen times where I’ve had a call drop or signal problem (mostly Sprint, and the Sprint problems were all over the course of a month when they started to phase out the Nextel network). In fact, while my T-Mobile signal is not always full bars, my data connection is typically faster than both my home and work internet connections combined (both cable based).

    Having said all that, I am led to wonder what kind of magical utopia the rest of you live in. What wonders are out there just waiting to be witnessed?

  16. Sian says:

    Sparta, IL. Was there last week. Phone signal: Zero.

  17. quail20 says:

    Actually, Sprint is a wonderful carrier if you live in a big area. Sprint’s bars and the phone reception were always great in big metropolitan areas.

    But if you live out in nowhere, you’re roaming on other carriers towers. This means high fees if you try to use the net and your calls may or may not happen. Had to switch finally when I couldn’t take the lack of decent coverage in this stupid town of mine that always votes down the placement of new cell towers. (Why did I ever move to BFE New England?) If I still traveled for work or lived in a big city, Sprint would be my carrier still.

  18. Santas Little Helper says:

    Was this just an ad for sprint?

  19. neilb says:

    I have used both Sprint 3g and Tmobile 3g in Toledo and I found them to both be pretty decent.
    Toledo generally has more infrastructure than it needs given its population, which makes everything work well there. I have no idea how Toledo could be considered to be tmobile deficient given my experiences with it there.
    Cincinnati, though, seems to stink for Sprint. 3g speeds crawl and wimax signals are hard to get in a lot of places. My horrible Evo3d keeps rebooting because it is always boosting to full strength (creating extra heat) due to a lack of signal.
    I will be switching back to tmobile because our new home gets almost new Sprint signal.

    Detroit on GSM stunk. There was a constant threat of picking up Windsor towers and getting charged international rates. Carriers can be clueless about blocking these connections.

  20. bben says:

    I think I’m starting to see a pattern here. Now, How well does Sprint compare outside of the big cities? In smaller cities, even smaller towns and in rural areas?

  21. 4Real says:

    In NYC iPhones barely work..

  22. canchita says:

    I couldn’t be happier with Virgin Mobile, which uses the Spring network. No dropped calls. No contract and no mysterious extra charges that kept appearing monthly when I still had T-Mobile.

  23. Rubberduckgrrl says:

    Forget individual little puny cities. Add the entire STATE of VERMONT. These mountains make cell calls a nightmare.